Daniel Day-Lewis announced that he was retiring from acting and that the Phantom Thread would be his last film. Unlike Peyton Manning, who retired after wining the Super Bowl, Phantom Thread will not provide Day-Lewis with a similar winning moment. The actor is famous for losing himself in his roles and he certainly does that again as Reynolds Woodcock, a designer in 1950s London who is fawned over by his wealthy and royal clients. Day-Lewis has the designer act down, from the way he handles a needle to the constant sketching of gowns to the meltdown when his fashions are being paraded before the critics. Like so many artists, Woodcock is single-minded in his approach, relegating those around him to a supporting cast that is necessary, although on most occasions annoying.
Daniel Day-Lewis and Lesley Manville
Woodcock’s company and, in fact, the designer himself, is managed by his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville). A confirmed bachelor, Woodcock even leaves it up to Cyril to break off relationships, which we are led to believe, never last for very long. That’s until he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a waitress he meets on one of his visits to his countryside home. Shortly after ordering his breakfast (Welsh raerebit with a poached egg on top, bacon, sausages, jam-not strawberry-and lapsang tea), he invites her to dinner. After the meal, he undresses her, not to have sex, but to design a dress for her. At this point, we know Alma is never returning to waitressing, but will become his muse.
Alma is a curious choice for Woodcock’s inspiration. And here director Paul Thomas Anderson does something quite right, casting the unknown Krieps as Woodcock’s Eliza Doolittle. She’s not conventionally beautiful, but she commands attention when on screen, particularly when she’s wearing one of Woodcock’s creations. The fashions are breathtaking. (Costume designer – Mark Bridges)
Alma is no fool. She not only falls in love with Woodcock, but she understands him and what he needs. It comes down to one thing – mothering. Woodcock still has dreams about his mother and the wedding dress he designed for her when he was a child. Cyril may have once fulfilled that role, but now Alma is committed to taking over. And what’s the one thing that mothers do best? Taking care, lovingly, of a sick child. In Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, mushrooms were used to off a Union solider. Alma won’t go that far, but her omelette soon have Woodcock as her patient, and a willing one at that.
Woodcock, Hitchcock? The parallels are there, making Phantom Thread less about romance and more about survival.
Top: Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day-Lewis
Photo Credit : Laurie Sparham / Focus Features